It’s almost time for summer holidays and long days lying on the beach. So many excellent books out in May — stock up this month and you’ll be ready to go, stocked up on books, when the time comes.
Note: Patreon subscribers get access to these monthly posts at the beginning rather than the end of the month. To join them, click here!
I take the titles for these monthly posts from a number of sources, including the highlighted books on The Bookseller, my own knowledge of authors to watch, and various lists around the web, and while I can’t claim to have read them, they definitely seem to have merit — or, at least, buzz. Unless indicated otherwise, descriptions are taken from Goodreads, Amazon, or the publisher’s site.
The most reliable place to find UK books in the original British English and at the date at which they come out in the UK is bookdepository.com, though you may also have some luck with bookwitty.com and/or wordery.com, neither of which are owned by Amazon, unlike the former.
The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder, by Sarah J Harris (UK, 3rd May, US, 12th June, literary fiction)
Jasper is not ordinary. In fact, he would say he is extraordinary… Synaesthesia paints the sounds of his world in a kaleidoscope of colours that no one else can see. But on Friday, he discovered a new colour – the colour of murder. He’s sure something has happened to his neighbour, Bee Larkham, but no-one else seems to be taking it as seriously as they should be. The knife and the screams are all mixed up in his head and he’s scared that he can’t quite remember anything clearly. But where is Bee? Why hasn’t she come home yet? Jasper must uncover the truth about that night – including his own role in what happened…
Whistle in the Dark, by Emma Healey (UK, 3rd May, US, 24th July, literary thriller)
Jen’s fifteen-year-old daughter goes missing for four agonising days. When Lana is found, unharmed, in the middle of the desolate countryside, everyone thinks the worst is over. But Lana refuses to tell anyone what happened, and the police think the case is closed. The once-happy, loving family returns to London, where things start to fall apart. Lana begins acting strangely: refusing to go to school, and sleeping with the light on. With her daughter increasingly becoming a stranger, Jen is sure the answer lies in those four missing days. But will Lana ever reveal what happened?
The Colour of the Sun, by David Almond (UK, 3rd May, YA fiction)
One hot summer morning, Davie steps boldly out of his front door. The world he enters is very familiar – the little Tyneside town that has always been his home – but as the day passes, it becomes ever more mysterious. A boy has been killed, and Davie thinks he might know who is responsible. He turns away from the gossip and excitement and sets off roaming towards the sunlit hills above the town. As the day goes on, the real and the imaginary start to merge, and Davie knows that neither he nor his world will ever be the same again.
Story of a Marriage, by Geir Gulliksen, transl. Debroah Dawkin (UK, 3rd May, literary fiction)
In his struggle to understand what has happened to his family, how his wife could fall in love with another man after twenty happy years, Jon attempts to tell the story of the painful collapse of his marriage, but from her point of view. He tries to get inside her head, to see it all as she did, all the while knowing that he can never really achieve this, and that his efforts reveal more projection than insight. How can one truly know another person? How much of what we think is love, is just a construct? Is it possible to find – and maintain – the great love we long for? Gulliksen explores these questions, turning them over again and again till they crack, revealing hollowness – or possible new meanings.
The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes, by Ruth Hogan (UK, 3rd May, literary fiction)
Masha’s life has stopped. Once a spirited, independent woman with a rebellious streak, her life has been forever changed by a tragic event twelve years ago. Unable to let go of her grief, she finds solace in the silent company of the souls of her local Victorian cemetery and at the town’s lido, where she seeks refuge underwater – safe from the noise and the pain. But a chance encounter with two extraordinary women – the fabulous and wise Kitty Muriel, a convent girl-turned-magician’s wife-turned-seventy-something-roller-disco-fanatic, and the mysterious Sally Red Shoes, a bag lady with a prodigious voice – opens up a new world of possibilities, and the chance to start living again. But just as Masha dares to imagine the future, the past comes roaring back …
The Art of Not Falling Apart, by Christina Patterson (UK, 3rd May, non-fiction)
We plan, as the old proverb says, and God laughs. But most of us don’t find it all that funny when things go wrong. Most of us want love, a nice home, good work, and happy children. Many of us grew up with parents who made these things look relatively easy and assumed we would get them, too. So what do you do if you don’t? What do you do when you feel you’ve messed it all up and your friends seem to be doing just fine? For Christina Patterson, it was her job as a journalist that kept her going through the ups and downs of life. And then she lost that, too. Dreaming of revenge and irritated by self-help books, she decided to do the kind of interviews she had never done before. The resulting conversations are surprising, touching and often funny. There’s Ken, the first person to be publicly fired from a FTSE-100 board. There’s Winston, who fell through a ceiling onto a purple coffin. There’s Louise, whose baby was seriously ill, but who still worried about being fat. And through it all, there’s Christina, eating far too many crisps as she tries to pick up the pieces of her life. The Art of Not Falling Apart is a joyous, moving and sometimes shockingly honest celebration of life as an adventure, one where you ditch your expectations, raise a glass and prepare for a rocky ride.
The Drunken Sailor, by Nick Hayes (UK, 3rd May, graphic biography)
The Drunken Sailor traces the life of Arthur Rimbaud: poet, surrealist, libertine and gun runner. In dazzling artwork, Nick Hayes follows Rimbaud from his youth in Ardennes to the poetry salons of Paris, from the absinthe-glazed passion of his relationship with Verlaine to his flight into the jungles of Indonesia and the deserts of Yemen and Egypt. Told entirely in Rimbaud’s own words, from a new translation of Le bateau ivre, The Drunken Sailor confirms Nick Hayes’ place as one of the most talented graphic novelists at work today.
Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life, by Edith Hall (UK, 3rd May, non-fiction)
Aristotle was an extraordinary thinker, perhaps the greatest in history. Yet he was preoccupied by an ordinary question: how to be happy. His deepest belief was that we can all be happy in a meaningful, sustained way – and he led by example. In this handbook to his timeless teachings, Professor Edith Hall shows how ancient thinking is precisely what we need today, even if you don’t know your Odyssey from your Iliad. In ten practical lessons we come to understand more about our own characters and how to make good decisions. We learn how to do well in an interview, how to choose a partner and life-long friends, and how to face death or bereavement. Life deals the same challenges – in Ancient Greece or the modern world. Aristotle’s way is not to apply rules – it’s about engaging with the texture of existence, and striding purposefully towards a life well lived.
Writers as Readers: A Celebration of Virago Modern Classics (UK, 3rd May, non-fiction)
In this collection, forty of the most significant writers of the past century tell us about one of their favourite writers by introducing books from the Virago Modern Classics collection, offering a glimpse at the treasures that have been published over the past four decades: they may be great works of literature; they may be wonderful period pieces; they may reveal particular aspects of women’s lives; they may be classics of comedy, storytelling, diary-writing or autobiography.
Impossible Things Before Breakfast, by Rebecca Front (UK, and US ebook only 3rd May, US, 6th November)
People are odd. Even the most predictable of us sometimes defy expectations. Add to that the tricks that life plays on us and the world suddenly seems full of impossible things. As an award-winning actor and writer, Rebecca Front has always been fascinated by life’s little quirks. Impossible Things Before Breakfast is a collection of true stories about surprising turns of events, bizarre misunderstandings and improbable life lessons. We learn, among other things, how gazing at the stars can help you communicate with teenagers, how a mushroom can undermine an ancient ritual, and why everyone should wear a cape.
The Language of Kindness: A Nurse’s Story, by Christie Watson (UK, 3rd May, memoir)
Christie Watson was a nurse for twenty years. Taking us from birth to death and from A&E to the mortuary, The Language of Kindness is an astonishing account of a profession defined by acts of care, compassion and kindness. We watch Christie as she nurses a premature baby who has miraculously made it through the night, we stand by her side during her patient’s agonising heart-lung transplant, and we hold our breath as she washes the hair of a child fatally injured in a fire, attempting to remove the toxic smell of smoke before the grieving family arrive. In our most extreme moments, when life is lived most intensely, Christie is with us. She is a guide, mentor and friend. And in these dark days of division and isolationism, she encourages us all to stretch out a hand.
Ella on the Outside, by Cath Howe (UK, US ebook only, 3rd May, middle grade)
Ella is the new girl at school. She doesn’t know anyone and she doesn’t have any friends. And she has a terrible secret. Ella can’t believe her luck when Lydia, the most popular girl in school, decides to be her new best friend – but what does Lydia really want? And what does it all have to do with Molly, the quiet, shy girl who won’t talk to anyone? A gripping story of lies, friendship, and blackmail…
Now You’re Talking: Human Conversation from the Neanderthals to Artificial Intelligence, by Trevor Cox (UK, 3rd May, US, 18th September, non-fiction)
Now You’re Talking explores the full range of our voice – how we speak and how we sing; how our vocal anatomy works; what happens when things go wrong; and how technology enables us to imitate and manipulate the human voice. Trevor Cox talks to vocal coaches who help people to develop their new voice after a gender change; to record producers whose use of technology has transformed the singing voice; and to computer scientists who replicate the human voice in their development of artificial intelligence. Beginning with the Neanderthals, Now You’re Talking takes us all the way to the digital age – with the frightening prospect that we may soon hear ‘Unexpected item in the bagging area’ more frequently than a friendly ‘Hello, how are you?’ in the street.
White Rabbit, Red Wolf, by Tom Pollock (UK, 3rd May, YA)
Seventeen-year-old Peter Blankman is a maths prodigy. He also suffers from severe panic attacks. Afraid of everything, he finds solace in the orderly and logical world of mathematics and in the love of his family: his scientist mum and his tough twin sister Bel, as well as Ingrid, his only friend. However, when his mother is found stabbed before an award ceremony and his sister is nowhere to be found, Pete is dragged into a world of espionage and violence where state and family secrets intertwine. Armed only with his extraordinary analytical skills, Peter may just discover that his biggest weakness is his greatest strength.
This Book Will Send You to Sleep, by Professor K McCoy and Dr Hardwick (UK, 10th May, non-fiction)
This Book Will Send You to Sleep makes no claims to be fun or interesting. It is a book you can read in full confidence that you will find absolutely nothing to stimulate your brain. A book, like no other, that will afford you much sleep and copious amounts of pointless knowledge. Where else will you read about the political crisis in Belgium 2007–2011 or study the growth pattern of holly? And from where else can you find, in one place an overview of railway gauges, a summary of the administrative bureaucracy of the Byzantine Empire and instructions for the creation of a collapsible music stand? Prepare to fall fast asleep with the most boring book ever published.
Happy Little Bluebirds, by Louise Levene (UK, 17th May, literary fiction)
It is September 1940 and Evelyn Murdoch, a translator from the Postal Censorship department, is uprooted from her home in wartime Woking and transferred to Hollywood. She is to assist a mysterious British agent in his attempts to outwit the Los Angeles German delegation and boost the British propaganda war effort. The unhappy young widow is supplied with a new Californian wardrobe, a Bel Air bungalow and her own desk in the writers’ block of Miracle Studios. At first bewildered by the glamorous excesses of this strange new world, she is gradually seduced by the sunlight, orange groves and clever, fast-talking men. But, just as she begins to blossom, her new technicolor ending threatens to slip from her grasp.
Meet Me at the Museum, by Anne Youngson (UK, 17th May, US, 7th August, literary fiction)
When Tina Hopgood writes a letter of regret to a man she has never met, she doesn’t expect a reply. When Anders Larsen, a lonely museum curator, answers it, nor does he. They’re both searching for something, they just don’t know it yet. Anders has lost his wife, along with his hopes and dreams for the future. Tina is trapped in a marriage she doesn’t remember choosing. Slowly their correspondence blossoms as they bare their souls to each other with stories of joy, anguish and discovery. But then Tina’s letters suddenly cease, and Anders is thrown into despair. Can their unexpected friendship survive?
The Brighton Mermaid, by Dorothy Koomson (UK, 17th May, thriller)
Teenagers Nell and Jude find the body of a young woman and when no one comes to claim her, she becomes known as the Brighton Mermaid. Nell is still struggling to move on when, three weeks later, Jude disappears. Twenty-five years on, Nell is forced to quit her job to find out who the Brighton Mermaid really was – and what happened to her best friend that summer. But as Nell edges closer to the truth, dangerous things start to happen. Someone seems to be watching her every move, and soon she starts to wonder who in her life she can actually trust…
Memory Songs: A Personal Journey into the Music that Shaped the 90s, by James Cook (UK, 17th May, US, 17th May, ebook only)
This is the story of a music-obsessed boy’s journey from his bedroom in Hitchin to the heart of nineties London just as Britpop is about to explode… From James Cook’s early encounters with pop’s pioneers – Revolver heard for the first time, Led Zeppelin glimpsed on evening TV – through an adolescence in which friendships are forged on a mutual love for the Velvet Underground, to the high-stakes gamble of moving to the metropolis, the years between the assassination of John Lennon and Kurt Cobain’s suicide are mapped in musical memories. Along the way, we explore the diverse influences that fuelled the nineties guitar pop boom, from John Barry to Bryan Ferry, and follow James as he forms a band with his twin brother and releases a critically acclaimed debut album. More than a memoir, Memory Songs stands as a testament to music’s power over the imagination, the way it punctuates our past and shapes our future. Woven through with meditations on the artists who defined the UK’s last legendary scene, it delivers a passionate analysis of the music that shaped a crucial moment in British cultural history.
Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, by Akala (UK, US audiobook only, 17th May)
From the first time he was stopped and searched as a child, to the day he realised his mum was white, to his first encounters with racist teachers – race and class have shaped Akala’s life and outlook. In this unique book he takes his own experiences and widens them out to look at the social, historical and political factors that have left us where we are today. Covering everything from the police, education and identity to politics, sexual objectification and the far right, Natives will speak directly to British denial and squeamishness when it comes to confronting issues of race and class that are at the heart of the legacy of Britain’s racialised empire.
My Box-Shaped Heart, by Rachel Lucas (UK, 17th May, YA fiction)
Holly’s mum is a hoarder, and she is fed up with being picked on at school for being weird . . . and having the wrong clothes . . . and sticking out. All she wants is to be invisible. She loves swimming, because in the water everyone is the same. Ed goes to the swimming pool because everything else in his life has changed. In his old life he had money; was on the swim team; knew who he was and what he wanted. In his old life his dad hit his mum. Holly is swimming in one direction and Ed’s swimming in the other. As their worlds collide they find a window into each other’s lives – and learn how to meet in the middle.